How do you win more consistently and more often? Are there specific traits and habits that top-performing salespeople possess as compared to their peers?
These are some of the questions we set out to uncover with our latest research. This research study was conducted by ValueSelling Associates and Selling Power and surveyed more than 150 U.S. business-to-business senior sales leaders to identify the mindsets, attributes, and behaviors of top-performing salespeople.
The findings revealed there are seven actionable habits of top sales performers; these habits are a combination of learned skills and inherent traits and set the best salespeople apart from the middle-of-the-pack reps.
We asked the sales leaders questions about many different traits and habits and asked them to rate how good their top performers were at a skill versus how good the rest of their reps were at that same skill. From their responses, we were able to see seven distinct areas where top-performing reps outperform the rest of the team.
This information can be used by hiring managers as a guideline of what to look for in the interview process, as well as a tool to use as part of the coaching and development program for the entire team in order to elevate average performers.
Here are the seven key habits of top-performing sales reps, what they mean, and why they are important:
1. Communicate Value
Communicating value is the art of quantifying the high-level value proposition for each prospective customer, drilling down from the generic promise, and tying it to the buyer’s unique challenges and priorities. The average salesperson may feel like they’ve done enough by merely communicating a value proposition, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Top performers recognize that they must have a conversation rooted in metrics, objectives, and goals that will help them identify where their value proposition creates real business impact for the buyer.
Top sales performers scored an average of 7.6 for communicating value, putting them ahead of the rest of the reps’ 5.6 average rating.
2. Ask Questions and Actively Listen to Responses
According to sales leaders, their best salespeople ask relevant, targeted questions throughout every sales conversation to gain a deeper understanding of the customer’s point of view. They go beyond superficial questions to identify and validate customer needs and challenges.
Active listening is another critical skill that top performers possess. After asking questions, they engage with verbal and nonverbal cues (i.e., facial expressions and seating position), as well as confirm and clarify what they’ve heard. This becomes increasingly difficult to gauge in a virtual environment yet remains an essential skill.
Sales leaders must help reps develop active listening skills by encouraging reps to practice behaviors such as taking notes and paraphrasing customer sentiments to show they are truly paying attention. In addition, it’s important to discourage distractions, such as multitasking, that undermine active listening during a sales meeting.
Top performers scored an average of 8 in this survey on the topic of asking questions and listening as compared with 5.3 for the rest of the reps.
3. Practice Empathy
Top performers know how to strike a balance between empathy and ego. They establish a clear need for their product or service by understanding the buyer’s needs, and they do it without arrogance. The opposite of an empathetic top performer is someone who focuses only on pitching and demonstrating their product or solution, regardless of the prospect’s situation. It’s important to note that managers must model the same empathetic behaviors that they encourage their teams to practice.
Top sales performers earn an average score of 7.5 for practicing empathy versus 5.8 for the rest of the reps.
4. Use a Sales Methodology
Sales leaders agree that having a consistent methodology across the organization is critical to build a team of top performers. A methodology creates a common skillset, toolset, and mindset around the sales process. Top performers align their activities with the sales methodology and know what it takes to uncover whether or not an opportunity is qualified. They don’t waste time pursuing unwinnable opportunities.
Today, sales professionals continue to do much of their work remotely. Since management and onboarding can be more challenging in a virtual environment, a structured sales methodology is even more important. Build-in frequent and consistent check-ins, and combine that with technology, data, and analytics to ensure sales reps can continue to be successful.
Top sales performers are more likely to use a consistent sales methodology with an average score of 7.5, versus the rest of the reps with a 5.4 average rating.
5. Build a High-Caliber Pipeline
Top performers are rigorous about prospecting and know what it takes to reach the right people, with the right message, at the right time to build a solid sales pipeline. These high-performing sales reps possess a mindset, supported by key prospecting skills — time management, identifying goals and objectives, overcoming obstacles, and making phone calls. They also maintain a disciplined cadence to make prospecting a priority.
Top performers scored an average of 7.3 as compared with a 4.5 for the rest of the reps in this category.
6. Stay Open to Coaching and Development
Top sales performers want to continue to learn and are open to feedback. In terms of hiring, sales leaders should look for signs of a learning mindset: Do they invest in their personal development outside of work? Do they believe there is always more to learn? Are they willing and able to effectively self-evaluate their strengths and areas for development?
As far as coaching your current team, we believe everyone needs coaching at some point and managers must be role models for the right behaviors. When reps struggle, coaches should course correct and help them see what to do differently. Leaders should also celebrate achievements — even the little ones — to reinforce leading indicators of success throughout the sales cycle.
Top sales performers earned an average score of 7.5 versus 5.9 for the rest of the reps for this key attribute.
7. Handle Adversity
Objections are a core part of being in sales, and those who can persevere through it are the most successful. When top performers face adversity, they are resilient and look for the lesson. They don’t take rejection or adversity personally and they have a short-term memory around failure. On the other hand, average-performing reps often take rejection or adversity to heart and struggle as a result.
From a development perspective, when a rep has a disappointment, a coach can help them elevate out of the situation and see the lesson for the future. A good coach will help them pinpoint their blind spots and figure out how to fix them. However, resilience is a quality to hire for and can be uncovered by asking scenario-based questions.
Top performers achieved an average score of 7.8 compared with a 5.2 for the rest of the reps for dealing with adversity.
Although these mindsets, attributes, and behaviors set the top-performing sales reps apart from the rest of the pack, many average sales reps have the potential to become top performers with the right coaching and development to learn and adopt these seven habits. Sales reps must be open to assessing their own performance, building a concrete plan, and doing the work needed to rise to the ranks of top performers.